As we all look forward to the long Easter weekend, retailers will be particularly excited. Many of us will use one of our extra days of freedom to indulge in a little retail therapy – whether on or offline.
But my advice to retailers and their marketers this Easter is to play the long game. Email marketing is one of your most effective tools for engaging customers, so it needs to be done right. Instead of bombarding customers with pushy emails about Easter sales, be smart and use this time to build and strengthen relationships with customers. Don’t believe me? Let’s delve into the perils of high pressure selling tactics.
Feeling the pressure
It’s hardly news that retailers are going through a tumultuous time. And while much is said about the demise of the high street, many online retailers are also facing their own set of challenges – from serial returners to an increasingly complex supply chain. As a result, the battle for share of the consumer wallet is greater than ever, meaning retail chiefs are feeling the heat.
This cocktail of factors has meant many retail brands have developed an ‘institutional myopia’ – by which I mean they have become trapped in a rat race for short term sales. This means discounting is becoming the go-to solution for many retailers. And this is particularly the case during special occasions like Easter, as brands know there will be a spike in consumers browsing the high street or online.
By now, most of us are used to opening our inbox and being greeted by a “Hurry up! Your time is running out to get 50% off!!” email. But let’s stop to think about how these emails are designed to make us feel – pressured? Stressed? Worried about missing out? Not only are these tactics leaving retail customers with a bad impression of the brand, they’re also training them to never buy at full price. A discount becomes the default, leaving pricing strategies meaningless. I’m sure we can all think of a brand that we’d never purchase from at full price, safe in the knowledge that an insistent email about the next sale is just around the corner.
And at Phrasee we’ve learned first-hand that these tactics simply aren’t as effective, thanks to the thousands of campaigns we’ve run over the years, including over many holiday seasons. In a straightforward A/B test, where one email subject line – much like the example above – includes the phrase “XX% off” and the other doesn’t, the subject line without the explicit discount wins around 55% of the time for our clients.
Short term gain for long term pain
So, while applying the pressure might be a quick and easy win to meet short-term sales targets, if we look at the bigger picture, such tactics are doing long-term damage to the bottom line by impacting profitability and customer loyalty. Buys made on impulse and under pressure can leave consumers with a bad taste about both the purchase and the brand, and brand loyalty is inevitably affected. Consumers can be fickle, and while it can take years to build a strong brand affiliation, it can only take one ill-judged email or poor purchase experience to break it.
Retail brands must think beyond this month’s sales targets and be mindful of the impact of this kind of short-termism on their reputation. What sort of company do they want to be known as? The universal, no brainer answer should be one that their customers like, respect and enjoy engaging with. This requires brands to treat their customers with respect – taking a considerate, ethical and responsible approach to how they engage with them.
So why do so many brands lose sight of this in pursuit of the quick wins? Of course, sticking to a set of responsible marketing principles is often easier said than done, particularly when you’re facing the pressure of tough sales targets. But for retailers or marketers who aren’t convinced, I implore them to think about the time consumers spend online interacting with their brand. If each of those marketing messages consists of words, phrases and semantics that make people feel guilty, anxious or just plain unhappy, the customer will be quickly turned off.
Indeed, brands that use repetitive language and tactics in their marketing will inevitably see a decrease in engagement over time. Consumer interest naturally diminishes over time and using the same high-pressure, negative language only speeds up this decay. What might do the trick for a new customer this Easter may well leave them cold come Christmas.
Out with the negative, in with the positive
It’s vital retail brands keep it fresh by using a wide variety of positive and engaging language. Surprise customers with quirky and unexpected subject lines that will tempt them into opening your email over the ten other interchangeable ones they’ve received, shouting about great discounts, from other retailers. And not only will they open your emails, but they’ll feel good when they do – everyone’s a winner when you put positive tactics into play.
I’m sure this will seem counter-intuitive to many retailers who are used to ‘50% off!’ signs in the window driving customers through the door. But our experience shows how important it is to lose such preconceived ideas when it comes to email subject copy and to test a diverse mix of language to figure out what gets your customers clicking.
Machines to the rescue
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. As humans, we have a tendency to quickly fall back into certain patterns and ways of thinking. So what can we do to save us from ourselves?
Enter smart tech. Not only can AI come up with ten diverse and interesting subject lines at the touch of a button, but such technologies can also significantly increase the chances of the customer opening the email. What’s more, AI tech learns over time – meaning that it gets smarter about what customers like and will therefore open. So instead of experiencing natural decay, retailers using this tech actually build engagement over time.
Retailers should take this Easter as an opportunity to boost their brand in the eyes of their consumers – and that means positive, fresh and engaging communication.
Parry Malm, CEO and co-founder, Phrasee